Theatre – The Altarpiece of Marvels

Venue: 107 Projects, Redfern
Written By: Adapted from Miguel de Cervantes
Directed By: Anna Jahjah

You may wonder what motivates people after their working day to venture out to a draughty hall to take part in a drama class. Given that most people are self-conscious and shrink from carrying out a drama teacher’s demands to forget the self and behave in all kinds of embarrassing ways (pretend you’re a hungry cat, she might say, or fly like a bird) or that most people are appalled by the prospect of speaking in public, why do people enroll in a drama class?

Drama classes have all sorts of pluses for the brave individual. Participation, in itself important, encourages qualities most valued today in the workplace: self-confidence both in stance and speech as well as the ability to see the world through another person’s eyes. In addition, it is essentially a group activity developing teamwork skills, inclusivity, commitment and flexibility. The outcome, a play, through the process of bringing order out of chaos – knowing the lines and cues, the entries and exits, costumes, makeup, props – also brings joy and a deep sense of group and personal achievement.

The proof in this case is in Théâtre Excentrique’s class of 2017’s charming and energetic presentation of The Altarpiece of Marvels, which performed to a packed house. This short play, adapted from a cautionary tale from 16th-century Spain, ridicules exclusivity with comic gusto. An impoverished theatrical producer, Chanfalla the Great, plays on the vanity of the Castilians by announcing that a play is to be performed so remarkable that only pure-blooded Castilians will be able to see it. The story unfolds as those with social pretensions to pure blood vie with each other to acclaim a series of marvels described by the theatricals as taking place but which are imaginary.

The lively performances of the drama group, Aishwarya Arun, Valentina Barbera, Helene Chauvet, Philip de Villiers, Mariane Elias, Lambert Feist, Aladin Halim, Leo Malapel, Rosalie Noel, Shiva O’Carroll, Agnes Thevenin and Pauline Evans, combined with the participation of the Born To Sing choral ensemble and musical accompaniment of guitar, did more than justice to an extravagant piece of insightful buffoonery.

As usual, group leader and director of Théâtre Excentrique, Anna Jahjah, has chosen material particularly meaningful to our own nation, divided over the refugee issue and what it is to be an Australian.

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